A sober and intelligent editorial on Hu’s rise to China’s No. 1 spot notes the secrecy involved in Jiang’s resignation and says it’s too soon to say how serious Hu really he is about reform. If he wants to prove he’s a true reformer, the editorial says, he has a great chance to convince the world:
Two days before the leadership transition was officially announced, authorities in Shanghai detained Zhao Yan, a news assistant in the Beijing bureau of The New York Times who was formerly a reporter for the magazine China Reform. Zhao’s family was advised that he was accused of “providing state secrets to foreigners.” Apparently, the “state secret” was an advance report that Jiang was about to retire. The Times says Zhao had nothing to do with the article. But the very suggestion that something that anywhere else would pass for routine politics is a state secret in Beijing speaks volumes about Chinese Communism.
Under the leadership of Jiang and Hu, China has demonstrated an enormous vitality and capacity for creative development, and economic well-being is an indispensable prerequisite for the development of democracy. But the reverse is equally true: Good government and the rule of law are indispensable for sustained development. One way to signal that Hu is not oblivious to this would be to release Zhao, and to make clear that his arrest was wrong.
This is an ugly situation Hu would be wise to bring to a close as painlessly as possible, as quickly as possible.
Update: This editorial is from the IHT, which is owned by the NYT.
Richard Burger is the author of Behind the Red Door: Sex in China, an exploration of China's sexual revolution and its clash with traditional Chinese values.